Some months ago, I was having a conversation about dating relationships with two classmates of mine. Each of my peers was discussing the qualities they look for in a companion (humor, fun, attractiveness, kindness, etc.). When they turned to me to hear a list of my preferences for an ideal mate, I gave the only response that made sense to me: “First and foremost, I would like him to be Catholic.”
In a secular public school atmosphere (and among an audience of one unconvinced Catholic and an atheist), my answer expectedly raised some eyebrows. “Well, I’m sure he doesn’t have to be Catholic,” my atheist cohort replied, telling me through a slanted glance, “I bet that’s not what you really meant to say.” He went on to explain that two people do not need to like all the same things, do all the same things, or believe all the same things to have a healthy, happy relationship—at which point, to his surprise, I completely agreed with him.
I do not like hot dogs (I know, I know…so un-American). I don’t play the guitar. I do not believe that March Madness is the greatest time of year for sports (no, because that would be the college football season). But my likes, dislikes, activities, quirks, and basic beliefs do not define me in the way my faith does. These elements are part of what I like to do and experience. They are not who I am.
Our Catholic faith is not like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. If a future boyfriend or husband said to me about PB&J, “Good for you but not for me,” I wouldn’t think twice. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich—as enjoyable as it is—does not constitute who I am. My Catholic faith does, and compatibility, not of likes and dislikes, but of persons, is a necessary component of a meaningful relationship.
I asked my atheist friend if it was easy for him to separate his atheist beliefs from who he is as a person. The more we live out our convictions, the more we find that we cannot separate who we are from what (or whom) we believe. If you truly believe in something, it transforms your being. As Catholics, we don’t just believe in the Church and believe in the Body of Christ. We are the Church; we are the Body of Christ. This reality changes everything. When people ask you what your faith background is, how do you respond? Do you say, “I believe in Catholicism,” or do you mostly find yourself answering, “I am Catholic”? Though we believe in Catholicism, we find it more natural to state our faith as who we are—the Catholic Church.
Our understanding of, and belief in, the Catholic faith must never be divorced from our experiential living of it. When we put who we are as an individual in one category and our Catholic faith in another, we compartmentalize our life in such a way that does a grave injustice to both our personhood and our Catholicity. As humans, we are all—I repeat, all—on a search for meaning, purpose, identity. We only find the fullness of that identity in Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church. Christ and His Church are not a side note, but the subject—the source of meaning and purpose. “Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…” (Philippians 3:8-9).
After some discussion, I looked at my atheist friend and said, “Yes. I would love nothing more than for my future boyfriend, fiancé, or spouse to love who I am—a member of the Body of Christ, the Church, Catholic.”
Allow Christ to define you. Do not shy away from living in Christ, from being a part of His Bride and Body. You’ll find there the real you, you in your fullness, the you that will be drawn to others who live fully and completely in Christ. We need to give that gift of ourselves to others. People aren’t starving for us to share similarities with them or for what we can do for them. They are ready to receive who we are. Today do not give someone something you can do, but give them the person you are.
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